An amazing thing happened at the recent Caricom (short for Caribbean Community) annual meeting of the heads of government held at the Rose Hall Resort & Spa in Montego Bay, Jamaica:

Leaders of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association, supported by the Caribbean Tourism Organization and private sector tourism leaders, managed to get the tourism issue onto the crowded Caricom agenda for discussion.

And, separately, they launched the Tourism Is Key advocacy campaign touting the importance of tourism to the region.

Moreover, they did this all within a three-day period.

Josef Forstmayr, the newly elected president of the CHTA and the managing director of Round Hill Hotel and Villas in Montego Bay, was ecstatic.

"We had 20 Caricom heads of state as well as Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, and Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, all coming to Jamaica for a long-planned annual meeting of the heads of state of Caricom," he said. "We at CHTA saw this as an unprecedented opportunity to pound home the regional tourism issue.

"We launched the Tourism Is Key advocacy campaign, got free ads for the campaign in the Jamaica newspapers, backed by the support of CTO, and we ran with it," Forstmayr said.

The Caricom meeting happened to dovetail with the installation of Forstmayr as the CHTA's new president. He was taking over the reins from Enrique de Marchena Kaluche, who had served in that post for the past two years.

"We were all in the right place at the right time with the right people," Forstmayr said.

The new campaign, which underlines the importance of travel and tourism to Caribbean economies, was launched July 5 in Jamaica newspapers, which ran three days of public-service ads touting the campaign during the Caricom meeting.

Citing a 2010 study conducted by the World Travel & Tourism Council, Forstmayr contended that travel and tourism would make "an extraordinary contribution to the Caribbean over the next 10 years, but the impact of the industry is not understood by public officials, the industry or the communities where it takes place."

Jean-Claude Baumgarten, president and CEO of the WTTC, emphasized that the value of travel and tourism be recognized "by governments and the public, so that governments help to unlock tourism's full potential for the benefit of all stakeholders in the Caribbean."

The Tourism Is Key campaign highlights key facts gleaned from the WTTC study, including statistics that travel and tourism:

  • Directly and indirectly employ more than 1.9 million people in the Caribbean (one in every nine jobs).
  • Employ 284,000 in Jamaica (one in every four jobs).
  • Account for 12.8% of the Caribbean's economic activity, which is higher than any other region in the world.
  • Account for 37.7% of Jamaica's gross domestic product, totaling more than $3.7 billion.

"The benefit of tourist spending impacting into the wider economy is the relevance that needs to be conveyed, so that everyone understands the importance of these tourists and the dollars they bring to the economy," Forstmayr said.

He further advocated programs to ensure that young people in the islands participate in the ownership and economic benefits of the tourism industry.

"We need to remind our own people that tourism business means jobs, not only in the hotels but for taxis, restaurants and the farmers and fishermen that fill the restaurants," Forstmayr said. "Tourism means work for the seamstresses, craftspeople, shopkeepers and manufacturers and the deliverymen and trash collectors.

"We must continue our efforts so that everyone understands that the tourism industry feeds the economic chain and builds strength in the human resource development of our youth."

This report appears in the July 12 issue of Travel Weekly.

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